On the muggy night of October 13, 2017, Ajit Dev* and his wife sat on the balcony of their one-room tenement in the Mumbai colony of Gautam Nagar, chatting. It was around 11.45pm. Vishnu*, their younger son, had died on July 25, and sleep had since been fitful, if it came at all. 

From their vantage point, a storey above ground, they espied a young man approach the block of men’s public toilets in front of their home. He seemed to be carrying a stray dog. Dev thought the dog was dead, and the man was going to dump it in the open ground just beyond the wall abutting their neighbourhood. 

But instead of proceeding further down the road, he took the dog with him and entered the stall in the middle. Intrigued, Dev descended the ten steps down the metallic ladder that led to the path below. Taking a neighbour along with him, the two approached the toilet complex. Sounds of canine whimpers grew as they closed in. Dev struck the stall door, and it gave way. The dog scampered off. What remained was the young man, quickly pulling his pants up, according to Dev. He started begging Dev not to say anything; his family would upbraid him, his life would be ruined.

“Uncle,” he said in Hindi, according to the chargesheet, “Don’t tell anyone I did something wrong with the dog. Please forgive me.” 

Dev roughly dragged him outside and called the police. By then a group started gathering, and sensing something was afoot, surrounded the scene.

“A man who can do this with animals, can do this with children, with others,” said Dev, a chubby, average built man, months later, recounting that night. “It was a helpless animal.”

Several police persons, some of whom were nearby for another event, rushed to the spot within 10 or 15 minutes. 

The next day, October 14, Dev lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against 19-year-old Kuldeep Karotiya at Powai police station, with a single charge: section 377. The provision punishes any “carnal intercourse” considered “against the order of nature” with up to a life term. It was one of three cases booked under that section in 2017 by Powai police, the only one ever in which an animal was a victim, as far as anyone at the police station could recall.

People often feel that becoming a complainant in a police case only invites inconvenience and headaches. To do so in a case where you are a bystander is unusual. To do so when the alleged victim is a dog is perhaps unheard of. 

Dev is not an animal rights activist. But he was no ordinary bystander. He had an extraordinary motive. He was a grieving father whose 13-year-old son had just before dying told him he had been raped by a man and driven to suicide. 

“It happened with my child, it’s happening with an animal. People don’t want to file FIRs for animals. But I came forward, as an example,” he said. “To show it can be done.”  

Gautam Nagar in Powai is a working-class area, shanties and tenements on sloping ground, its residents packed into tiny homes. Goats roam freely and garbage is heaped randomly across the landscape. An open waterway, its waters choked with trash, flows sluggishly by the entrance. You can’t see it from here, because of the foliage, but the gleaming edifice of the Ramada Powai lies less than a kilometre away. Most of Gautam Nagar’s inhabitants work in industrial units, or as auto drivers, shopkeepers, private chauffeurs.

Dev and his wife bought a small home here in 2001, a mixed neighbourhood with people from UP, like themselves, but also from other communities. They went back once a year. He had lived in Mumbai for ten years previously, and after getting married came here. The colony had running water and electricity, and civic amenities though basic were not wanting. 

Vishnu grew up in this colony, the younger of two boys. His father often dropped the children to school on his way to work and their mother picked them up later. Once they grew older, they got home themselves by bus. He attended a small private school nearby and maintained a daily diary on his life and feelings. In June 2017 he went into Class 8, with dreams, his father said, of becoming a scientist. Asif*, a 10-year-old boy in the neighbourhood was his close friend and the two were frequent playmates. 

In the week leading up to July 12, he seemed uneasy, and said he was scared. At school, he made strange statements about not living very long, his father later heard. For six days he had not attended after-school tuition following a scolding from the teacher, his parents later found out. He was going to play instead. And at home he seemed preoccupied and not hungry, carrying religious photos in his pocket. Did someone hit you? Did something happen, his father would ask. I am scared someone will hurt me, he would say. 

On July 12, after Dev returned from work at a machinery parts workshop in Andheri, the family ate dinner sometime between 9 and 10 p.m, as usual, watched television, and went to bed. Around midnight Vishnu woke up feeling sick, and began vomiting. Flecked with blood, it wouldn’t stop. His mother tried to think back on whether they had eaten outside food that day but couldn’t imagine what could have been responsible. 

The night wore on. Both families, unbeknownst to each other, scrambled for medical attention. Vishnu was kept in hospital. But Asif was given some medicines and sent home. By the time it was morning, Asif’s stomach ache returned. Just as his mother turned away to make a cup of tea, he died. 

Vishnu then, holding on to his father, apologised, and made a startling revelation. Earlier that evening, he had gone to a chemist and bought rat poison. Dunking it in a bottle of Slice, sometime between 4.30 p.m. and 5 p.m. he had drunk it. Panicking, Dev rushed his son to the nearest hospital. When they heard about the case, they said they weren’t equipped to treat the boy. The family then sped to Sion Hospital, a public hospital some distance away. As treatment began, Dev and his wife could simply not fathom what had made their son attempt suicide. 

They didn’t know then, but in a house less than 300 metres from theirs, Asif also woke up around midnight feeling sick. The younger boy too had drunk the poison-laced beverage. But unlike Vishnu, he never said anything (whether he knew what he drank or not, is not entirely clear). 

The night wore on. Both families, unbeknownst to each other, scrambled for medical attention. Vishnu was kept in hospital. But Asif was given some medicines and sent home. By the time it was morning, Asif’s stomach ache returned. Just as his mother turned away to make a cup of tea, he died. 

When he heard the news from the neighbours, Dev didn’t tell his son, as the boy struggled with his condition. As his parents cajoled and coaxed, asked and asked, he wouldn’t say why he had done what he had done. He only said his friend had bought it with him, and drunk it too. And he warned his parents: “Leave that place. Move away. Terrible people live nearby.” They thought it was the effect of the medicines. 

Meanwhile, the parents were trying to arrange funds for the growing medical expenses. Vishnu was moved to the ICU at KEM Hospital on July 15. He was put on a waiting list for a liver transplant. Then on the evening of July 19, a week after he drank poison, Vishnu turned to his mother and told her “Mummy, [name unclear] can kill. He is a don.” Who is he? His mother asked. “Mummy, you sell the house and leave,” he replied. What happened, she asked. He told her. She in turn, told her husband, and then the police. 

On an unspecified date before he drank the poison, Vishnu had gone to look for water near Filterpada, an adjacent neighbourhood. Someone whisked him away, took him inside a room, shut the doors and windows, and raped him. He fell unconscious, and didn’t know what had happened. Vishnu vaguely mentioned two names, but his parents didn’t recognise them. 

The revelation came as a shock. “It never occurred to us it could happen to a boy,” said Dev. 

Dev called the police. Later that night Vishnu slipped into a coma. He never recovered. On July 25, 2017, he died in KEM Hospital. On the same day Asif’s body was exhumed to conduct a post-mortem in light of the new disclosure. They found traces of poison in his body, but no visible sexual injuries, according to the police, and reburied him soon after. (Vishnu claimed though, that both were assaulted and bought the poison together, his father said.) 

The Powai police lodged an FIR on July 20 under section 377 and 342 of the IPC and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) Act, based on his mother’s statement of what Vishnu had told her. But his statement could never be recorded as Vishnu never regained consciousness. A report from KEM Hospital later revealed injuries: the final opinion concluded “evidence of repeated anal penetration present”. 

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, fear stalked the neighbourhoods around Gautam Nagar. Parents escorted their children to school and back, warned them not to stray too far when they went out to play and cautioned them against speaking with strangers. 

Police teams swung through the area, questioning people, trying to requisition CCTV footage and follow even the slimmest lead they could alight upon. Residents took out a candle-light march, local politicians made sympathetic noises and the media covered the suicides closely during that period. Later, even a Crime Patrol episode, loosely based on the incident, was aired. 

Inspector Balwant Deshmukh led a dozen-strong team from Powai police station on a months-long investigation. They spoke to men in the area; old men and young men, known offenders and men known to have sex consensually with men, spanning a three to four-kilometre radius in the neighbourhood. But after recording statements of 146 people—including those with names like the ones Vishnu had mentioned—they had no one to arrest. 

The case claimed so much public attention after it was first reported in 2017 that Deshmukh was even called to respond to progress on the probe during legislative assembly sessions, twice in Mumbai and once in Nagpur. 

When we first met in January 2018, outside Dev’s former home, a torn, half-obscured poster with Vishnu and Asif’s pictures was pasted on the wall. It sought information on who could have hurt the boys, and offered a one lakh reward to anyone with leads. Dev pointed to the poster in the fading evening light, remarking that though it was a long shot, they never got a single lead. “Not on any of the three numbers.” The money was cobbled together with the help of well-wishers and their own savings, but in the end never used. 

“We tried our level best,” said Deshmukh, a moustachioed, bespectacled inspector, now transferred to Andheri police station. “Two hours before going into a coma when he disclosed [what happened] he wasn’t in a proper state to give the statement.” He was also slurring, according to Deshmukh. The police would later say that some of the facts didn’t line up with the narration. 

They also said they had interviewed three different groups of boys who consensually had sex with each other and the wounds found on Vishnu’s body were not of forcible sex. (Still, this is a crime—since sex with a person under the age of 18 is illegal, regardless of consent.)

Naturally, Dev bristled at this suggestion, which he has heard second-hand. “Then why would he consume poison?” he asked. 

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is a Victorian-era provision in the original Penal Code of 1860 that was intended to punish what was seen as unnatural sex. It’s long been identified as the central piece of legislation criminalising consensual same-sex activity, as it effectively targeted people who identify as queer.  

In 2009 the Delhi High Court read down the section of the Act that criminalised consensual activity. But in 2013, the Supreme Court reinstated it in appeal. Over the years, more than a tool of prosecution of queer people, the law was a means of blackmail, extortion and persecution. 

That section 377 criminalised an entire subset of the population was perhaps the most well-known face of this law. But it could—and can still—be applied in cases of forced non-vaginal sexual activity, and has been lodged by women against men, by the police in cases of child victims (as with Vishnu) and with animal victims (as with the dog case). 

From 2010 to July 2019 Mumbai police filed 817 FIRs, arresting 1,001 people in the process, according to an RTI response to Fountain Ink. Chargesheets were filed in 578 cases. It is impossible to be certain of the contents of these FIRs, but it is safe to assume only a fraction related to animal abuse. “Since section 377 is used with the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, it is my feeling that a large proportion of cases would relate to the abuse of children,” said Tripti Tandon, an advocate who was among those arguing against section 377 in the high court. “It may also be used in complaints of cruelty and marital rape, where a wife alleges that her husband forced her to have ‘unnatural sex’.”

Comprehensive data on convictions under the section are hard to find as it can be brought before both a magistrate’s court and a sessions court. While it is possible that cases with animal victims have resulted in convictions, but have not come to light, none of the animal activists I spoke to could recall a recent one. To find a reference we have to turn to British India, in Khandu versus Emperor which reached the High Court of Lahore, in 1933. One Khandu, already convicted of a crime and serving a sentence in Multan, was found penetrating a bullock up the nostril, according to a fellow inmate; this was noted in the 1934 edition of the All India Reporter law journal. 

In September last year, when the Supreme Court read down section 377, de-criminalising consensual same-sex acts, it retained the section as it pertained to non-consensual acts. The bench noted that the petitioners had not challenged the bestiality aspect. It stayed. 

It remains the only recourse when an animal is sexually assaulted. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 includes punishments for torture, mutilation and harassment of animals but does not have a bestiality clause. 

In the past five years alone, Alok Gupta, an animal rights activist, queer rights activist and lawyer has found 70 animal sexual abuse cases based on mainstream media reports; and 28 in the past two. According to Gupta, who is preparing a report on this (he argues against using the word “bestiality”), the victims are usually dogs, cats, cows and goats. 

“We need to talk about animal sexual abuse as sexual abuse. When as a country we are outraged by sexual abuse, why aren’t we seeing the parity with animal sexual abuse?” he asked. “Violence doesn’t exist in isolation but in a culture of violence.”

In Ayodhya this year a man was found raping cows in a gaushala. In Haryana in 2018, eight men were accused of raping a pregnant goat, which later died. In Delhi in 2017, a man was accused of raping a puppy to death. In Thane in 2015, a security guard was booked for raping a stray dog. 

“More cases of bestiality are coming to light and being reported in the media, but these rarely go beyond the registration of an FIR,” said Varda Mehrotra, Executive Director of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO). “There tends to be an apathy in investigation, lack of awareness, the feeling that this is just an animal.” 

But that was not on Dev’s mind when he saw what he claims he saw. First his son, and now this? Could this man know something about the assault on Vishnu? 

Child sexual abuse is a well-documented offence. Fifty-three per cent of boys reported sexual abuse in an authoritative central government survey from 2007 which covered 12,447 children between five and 18 and 2,324 adults between 18 and 24 (it was 47 per cent for girls). In 2012, following a rise in crimes against children, the Centre enacted the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO). When applying POCSO sections with boys, the police tend to also apply section 377, as they had in Vishnu’s case. 

To locals, what happened was both a tragedy, and a cautionary tale. About six months later, and less than a kilometre away, Smita Kerkar* had a story to tell. On January 26, 2018, she went and told it to the police. 

Two days earlier, around 2 p.m. her 14-year-old son Mukul* had gone out to play in the forested area a little further off, when he fell behind the rest of the group and was waylaid by an 18-year-old identified as Abdul. He lured Mukul away by giving him some toys, then asked Mukul if he needed money and told him he would protect him. He asked Mukul to drop his pants, took him by the hand and started to lead him to a secluded spot. Mukul managed to duck out and escape. He returned home to tell his parents of the encounter. 

The incidents of July 2017 were still fresh in the family’s mind, and what happened with their son felt like a providential escape. “We thought, we must come forward,” said his father. “It’s happening to us, tomorrow it could happen to someone else.”

The alleged perpetrator was arrested at the time, though the family doesn’t know what has happened since and hasn’t spotted him either. But it served to reinforce the sense of fragility about security in the neighbourhood. 

Powai police station, between 2015 and August 2019, recorded 15 FIRs under section 377. Eleven cases involved child victims, so POCSO sections were also applied. In 13 of the 15 cases chargesheets were filed; one ended in a C report, meaning the case did not proceed because the FIR was registered following a misunderstanding. 

In the other one, the double suicide, police filed an A report in the magistrate’s court on August 2, 2018, a year after opening the probe. It meant they conceded that the case had been true but undetected. It also meant there would be no further active investigation, but in the future if any leads came up, they could reopen it. 

When Rina Lohar, then Rina Pawar, was deputed as investigating officer in the dog case of October 2017, she had never undertaken an investigation under section 377 before. She had recorded statements of victims in rape cases under section 376, but this one involved a victim incapable of making a statement. Moreover, the dog was never found, so it could never be examined. 

When he was accosted, Kuldeep Karotiya confessed to assaulting the dog, according to Dev and what he told the police after his arrest (Karotiya denied any wrongdoing or making any such admission). Karotiya’s family threatened him, Dev claimed, and told him to drop it, but he had no doubt in his mind that he would pursue the matter. 

“I saw it with my own eyes,” said Dev. “If you want to kill me, kill me,” he said. “I won’t let this go.”  

Karotiya rubbished all the charges in a meeting at his home, “The dog was already in the toilet,” he said. “They wrongly assumed I was doing something with it.” His father Bishvamber said it was a “misunderstanding” and his son’s name had been spoilt. 

After his arrest, Karotiya was taken for the standard medical examination. No stains or injuries were found on his body. In the medical report appended with the chargesheet, under the section headed “history narrated by accused”, it said: “...he had taken the dog inside the common toilet after consumption of alcohol. He denies the allegation of unnatural sexual intercourse with the dog.” 

The court did not grant custody to the police and he was sent to judicial custody at Arthur Road jail for 10 days before he got bail. 

Shy of three months after the incident, on January 12, 2018, Rina Lohar filed a chargesheet at the Andheri magistrate’s court. It is perhaps one of a handful of such cases moving towards a trial. Activists were unable to recall a recent 377 conviction in which the victim was an animal.

He told me he saw his son in that dog.

“Filing a chargesheet in any case is a milestone,” said lawyer and animal rights activist Alok Gupta. “For police to file a chargesheet they need strong evidence and that is hard, especially in cases of sexual offences. If they have done that on the witness’ statement alone, that is amazing.” 

Meet Ashar, the lead emergency response coordinator with People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India was familiar with this case. On the night that Dev kicked the door down, a local in the area called him up. Ashar had been leading the PETA response team for about a year by then, and called the senior police inspector, offering his help and telling him he had filed other such cases in the past. He also said he could send volunteers to help in the search for the dog.

“We try and empower people. For how many years am I or someone else going to file cases on behalf of other people?” he said.

Ashar never met Dev, but when he spoke to him on the phone, he thought this wasn’t someone who would shy away from filing a case. 

Dev told Ashar he wasn’t necessarily an animal lover, or someone who fed stray dogs. He didn’t hate animals, but he simply didn’t have a special passion for them. Then, in an emotional moment, he unspooled to Ashar the burden he had been carrying. 

“He told me he saw his son in that dog,” recalled Ashar. “That gave me goosebumps... He said I couldn’t help my son, but I have this opportunity and should help this dog. He said, today it is a dog, tomorrow he may do it with a kid like mine, or to someone else, that this is the least I could do to make sure this person doesn’t commit such crimes in the future.” 

Bestiality, sometimes referred to as zoophilia, alludes to human-animal sexual activity, and is outlawed in several countries. Identified in psychiatric diagnostics as a “paraphilia” or a sexual perversion, self-identified zoophiles may however refer to it as a sexual orientation. The Kinsey reports (1948 and 1953), considered a landmark work on human sexual behaviour, estimated that 8 per cent of men and 3.6 per cent of women had committed sexual acts with animals. Experts believe that often such activity occurs in or around farms, since the opportunity is obvious, and in cities with strays. 

There is very little research on bestiality in India. One of the few papers that came up was a case study in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine in 2016, which examined an 18-year-old who had been brought to the emergency department of a hospital after being caught raping two calves. The third of six children living near a farm, he had been sodomised at 10, lost his mother at 13, and had started drinking by the age of 16. 

“He visits Internet cafés very regularly to watch pornographic movies and pictures; however, he preferred to watch sexual activities of animals (only of cow, dog, and hen),” according to the paper authored by Sujata Satapathy, Rajanikanta Swain, Vidhi Pandey, and Chittaranjan Behera. Clinical assessments came up with a laundry list of disturbing findings: violent, lacking in empathy, uncontrollable, excitement-seeking, exhibitionistic. 

“This was a warning signal for the community the patient belonged to, as bestiality may be associated with psychological disorder, including aggressive tendencies and behaviours towards children and other humans,” the authors went on to state. 

Studies from the US show that people with a history of abusing or torturing animals are more likely to commit crimes later in life. First Strike: The Violence Connection, a report from the Humane Society of the United States collated some of these. Researchers found pet abuse in 60 per cent of 53 families being investigated for suspected child abuse. Another study of 36 convicted murderers found that 46 per cent admitted to torturing animals as adolescents. 

Serial killers Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert DeSalvo all committed acts of animal cruelty, the same document said. Closer home, according to media reports, Ameerul Islam, accused in a Kerala rape and murder case, used to assault dogs and goats and kill them, it emerged during the investigation. 

“Violent people often start by abusing animals and then move on to targeting human victims, so it is imperative for society as a whole that we take cruelty to animal cases seriously,” said Ashar. “PETA India calls for anyone found harming animals to be punished to the fullest extent of the law and requests that the government strengthen penalties for abusing animals—for the safety of the entire community.”

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act contains provisions to punish those torturing, mutilating or killing animals, but has no such provisions for sexual assault on animals. Activists have long sought the strengthening of its provisions. 

In 2000, as the queer rights movement was gathering ground in India, the 172nd Law Commission recommended a complete removal of section 377 as part of its review of the existing rape laws. The report suggested that section 375, which had so far limited the definition of rape to women, be expanded and made gender-neutral. This would mean section 377, applicable to male victims of rape, need not remain on the books, and consensual same-sex activity could be decriminalised. This meant that “...the only content left in section 377 is having voluntary carnal intercourse with any animal. We may leave such persons to their just deserts.”

It, however, remained on the books. 

Last year, on July 31, less than two months before section 377 was read down insofar as it related to consenting adults, PETA wrote to union home minister Rajnath Singh, seeking that the section still stand as far as sexual acts with animals was concerned.

“PETA India supports the fight of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community for human rights and the legal rights conferred to them under articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution of India and supports decriminalising sexual acts between consenting adults under section 377 of the IPC,” the letter said. “However, animals must not be denied protection from sexual assault, and since those convicted of crimes against animals often pay only a paltry Rs 50 fine—the highest penalty for a first offence under the PCA Act, 1960–it’s critical that Section 377 of the IPC should preserve the wording that specifically makes bestiality a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.” In terms of penalty, section 377 is the strongest provision available to combat any kind of atrocity against an animal. 

Ashar and his colleagues at PETA have in the past three years helped file FIRs in 10 such animal sexual assault across the country, four of these in and around Mumbai itself. Most recently in August, he assisted in another dog rape case in Kharghar, in Navi Mumbai. 

But activists believe most cases never come to light, because these are acts committed discreetly, because people often don’t realise this constitutes a crime and because the police may not be bothered to register them. 

“Animal abuse cases are not usually on anyone’s priority list,” said Alokparna Sengupta, managing director of Humane Society International (India). “But with more organisations like ours working on these issues and social media, they are receiving more attention.” 

In ground floor courtroom number 66 in Andheri’s magistrate court complex, the eight ceiling fans clack louder than Judge Nerlikar’s voice can carry. Towers of paper collect dust along the walls, and lawyers in ill-fitting suits approach the bench every time a number is called out.

On September 27, Powai police station versus Kuldeep Karotiya was listed at number 129 on the board. This is the third time it has been listed, according to court records, but the court is yet to frame charges, the crucial step before a trial can start. Today too, nothing happens. Public Prosecutor Khade, deputed to this courtroom says he is not allowed to speak about this or any other case with the media. 

There is no sign of the accused. Court officials say he has not marked his presence yet, and neither has his lawyer. As the morning wears on, various domestic violence cases come up. Around 12.30 p.m., after scanning the courtroom and asking everyone present if their case still remains to be called, the judge leaves for the break. In the meantime, the staff have misplaced the Karotiya file, and an hour later still can’t locate it. Thrown between courtroom and record room, festering mounds yield nothing. By the evening, Karotiya and his father arrive to mark their attendance, as mandated in the bail conditions. The matter will next be heard on January 3, 2020. 

Some days later, deep inside Gautam Nagar, past where Dev once lived, past the public toilets, the alleged crime scene, Karotiya, a slim 5’3”, 21-year-old, ducks and weaves as he navigates the tiny alleys and goat-jammed pathways that lead to the home he shares with his parents and five brothers. His father insists it’s a concocted case emerging from a misapprehension and has no basis in fact. Karotiya has no criminal record and has no link to the double suicide. He diligently goes to court as required but there has been no progress, they claim. 

Since there was never any medical evidence recovered from the dog and no CCTVs in the area, it is not clear how strong the prosecution case will be. 

“If the medical was not done [on the victim] the question arises whether the offence was committed or not,” said criminal defence lawyer Abhay Kumar Apte. Several years ago he helped acquit an employee of the forest department accused of raping a wild cat that was later found dead. Because of the rains, and attacks from stray dogs, much of the cat’s body had decomposed before evidence could be collected, so the offence could not be proved. Apte said though, that evidence gathered from the body of the accused might suffice too, if there were traces of the animal.

Sometime in the first half of 2018 Dev sold his room in Gautam Nagar and moved to Sakinaka in Andheri. The place held too many raw wounds, and old memories. It longer felt safe or warm. Relations with Asif’s family cooled following the children’s deaths, and they aren’t in touch. He periodically still goes to the police station though. For a while Dev hoped the case would be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, widely perceived to be a better agency, fearing the incompetence of the local police. He still hopes for this.

In this part of Powai, no one today seems to be aware that a young man was arrested and charged with raping a dog. But most have heard about the suicides. 

The immediacy of the panic has receded. But people remember what happened. They commiserate. They wonder who did it and why no one was caught. And they continue to stay vigilant about their children.

“Earlier we thought we must only look out for our girls, but this incident made us realise boys can fall prey too,” said Zahida Ali Shaikh, a housewife from Morarji Nagar, adjacent to Gautam Nagar. “Today it is their child, tomorrow it could be our child.” 

The faintest signs of a ragged poster seeking information and promising a reward still remain on one public toilet, though it is barely discernible. And while his son’s assailants still roam free, Dev waits to be called for his day in court: on behalf of an animal.

*Names of sexual assault victims and their  families have been changed. 

Correction, November 11, 2019: The print version of the story incorrectly stated Visnhu's year of death as 2012.  He died on July 25, 2017.